The horrors and scale of war were brought home to members of Corcrain Flute Band when they visited France last month to commemorate the tens of thousands of men who died on the battlefields there.
As well as visiting cemeteries, the trenches and other memorials, the band played a series on concerts on a trip they described as “unforgettable”.
Lucy McCausland, one of the 38 members who made the weekend-long journey and provided an account for the Portadown Times, said, “It is hard to grasp the sheer size and multitude that the war affected, both in people and land, until you see it with your own eyes.”
The trip began with a performance at a church in Essigny where the band’s programme included pieces such as 1914, Ulster Division and God so Loved the World – a mix of lively and more sombre pieces to commemorate the men who fought for Britain.
The musicians also received a warm reception for their encore of the march, ‘Corcrain’, which was written for the band.
Said Lucy, “We realized during and after this concert that musics transcends any language barrier.”
The next day, the group visited Grand Seraucourt Cemetery and the grave of Sgt Thomas Goucher, a relative of guest player Laura McBride. They played as the poppy wreath was laid at a service in which the Mayors of Essingy and Seraucourt also participated.
Then it was on to a tour of the Somme Battlefields, including a visit to the Ulster Tower, Thiepval Memorial, La Boiselle Crater and
Newfoundland Park, and fascinating and heartbreaking accounts of the lives of the men who fought there.
Throughout the day the band also visited the graves of Pte Andrew Rowen, Pte James Rountree and Sgt Ross Neill – and commemorated these men with a service of remembrance, including prayers.
En route to Belgium, the group stopped off at Vimy Memorial Park a for a tour of the tunnels and trenches, where they were able to stand in the trenches which the Canadian and German soldiers stood in, and look across the small area of ‘no man’s land’.
Said Lucy, “This brought to life what conditions and positions the men at war were in at this time, a very hard life to imagine even with the evidence there.”
Once in Flanders, the band performed at the Menin Gate Memorial in what they described as “a proud and emotional moment for the entire band”. They played God So Loved the World and Supreme Sacrifice as the wreaths were laid, including one by Meg Flannigan (Corcrain band master) and Kenny Harland (Corcrain drum major) on behalf of Corcrain Flute Band.
After the service of remembrance the band marched out of the gate playing ‘Corcrain’, which the crowd really enjoyed.
Among the cemeteries visited were the Menin Road South Cemetery, Langemark German Cemetery, and Tyncot Cemetery, the biggest Commonwealth cemetery in the world with 11,954 soldiers laid to rest here.
Said Lucy, “The British cemeteries were open and bright, and they had a feeling of pride within them of the men that fought, whereas the German cemetery was covered in a canopy of oak trees, using dark headstones laid flat on the ground.”
The Irish Peace Tower at Messines and the site of the 1914 Christmas Truce were also on the band’s agenda before they began the journey home.
Added Lucy, “This weekend for the band was an emotional trip but also a trip we were all very proud to be part of. Some of the band members had visited before but to some of us this was new, and eye-opening.
“It is an experience that none of the 38 people will ever forget.”